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BPI Exam Prep

March 01, 2010
March/April 2010
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2010 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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Steve Mann is a HERS rater, Green Point rater, LEED AP, Certified Energy Analyst, serial remodeler, and long-time software engineer.

Experienced HERS raters and BPI-certified technicians know that there is a huge difference between passing the certification exams and actually becoming proficient in the field. A typical precertification class may include some hands-on time with a blower door or combustion analyzer, but it’s usually pretty minimal.

In my first HERS certification class, eight of us assembled around a blower door. While the instructor described what to do, two people assembled the frame, two more installed it in the door, two more hooked up the equipment, and the final two got to turn it on and read the manometer. In my first combustion class, which was in a very nice lab with several different types of furnace, the instructor walked us through the lab, describing how to test each piece of equipment. We were then given a combustion analyzer and about 30 minutes to test the CO and combustion efficiency on each piece of equipment.

For draft and spillage testing, we went to a real house. While 20 people looked on, one or two people got to actually test draft and spillage while the instructor described what was going on.

This is not the depth of training that gives you that warm fuzzy feeling when you show up at a client’s house for the first time, especially when there are explosive gases and CO involved. If you work for a company that provides field mentoring, great. In my experience, there are a lot of single-person companies out there that get their field experience on their own. Drilling into a flue or what you hope is a supply or return plenum for the first time can be a
bit unnerving.

Video Training

Saturn Resource Management’s online training, which I discussed in Home Energy’s annual training issue (“Computer-Based Energy Analyst Training,” July/Aug ’09, p. 8), tries to fill this void by including videos of some typical tests you might need to do on a house. Saturn’s curriculum is designed primarily to replace classroom training, and it does a good job; the videos don’t really replace high-quality field training, however.

Now Building Science Tech has released a video training product, (Building Analyst Field Training Video: How to Perform a Home Energy Audit), designed to help you pass the BPI Building Analyst and Building Envelope field exams. It was produced by Asa Foss and is narrated by him and Glenn Dickey. Both have extensive field and training experience. They are so confident of this product that they claim that you should be able to pass both BPI field exams if you are comfortable with the contents of the video.

The $99.95 video includes 90 minutes of footage that explains worst-case combustion testing, blower door and duct testing, advanced pressure diagnostics, general inspections, and more. The video includes some bonus printable materials: a well-organized field checklist, the BPI field testing guides and standards, and a collection of pointers to and a list of additional resources. The product is a BPI Recognized Training video, good for 1.5 BPI continuing education units.
The video is divided into four sections: exterior walk around, interior walk around, combustion safety testing, and blower door testing (plus a special section on taking the BPI field exams). Each of the four sections is divided into seven or eight subchapters that you can go to directly from the navigation menus. Overall, the organization is clear and easy to follow, although the main headings can be misleading. For instance, they include oven combustion testing and duct testing in the interior walk-around section.

Each section starts with a description of what they’re going to do and the required and optional tools you’ll need. They then show you, step by step, each procedure, in a real house. Much of the content is not extremely deep. For instance, when describing duct testing, they simply show a Duct Blaster hooked up to a return register and very briefly describe the setup and the process. If you want to actually learn what’s involved in duct testing, you should start in the classroom and then get your hands dirty with some real houses and real equipment.

Some topics, such as combustion testing, are covered in much more detail than others. (Building Science Tech says that out of the more than 200 field exams it has proctored, more than 90% of the failures were in the combustion safety section of the exam.) Foss and Dickey spend a lot of time on worst-case depressurization and draft, spillage, and CO testing. That extra emphasis is a good thing—those are the BPI tests that are directly related to health and safety. These chapters include thorough water heater and furnace inspections, with video close-ups of things like spillage testing and inspecting for a cracked heat exchanger. They also demonstrate boiler combustion safety testing and common venting strategies.

Passing the Exam

The first time I watched this video, I thought there was too much content, covered much too quickly, with some significant details missing. On a second watching, I followed Building Science Tech’s advice and printed out the data collection form and followed it while they walked through the various chapters. My second impression was much better, partly because the data collection form helps you keep the content organized while viewing. The form is nicely color coded to identify which items are required for the Building Analyst and the Building Envelope field exams. It also includes best practices not covered in either exam. Although I would dispute their claim that you should be able to pass both BPI exams after “being comfortable with the video contents,” there’s no doubt that Building Analyst Field Training Video is a valuable tool. It can certainly help get you more comfortable with BPI testing requirements and what to expect in a BPI field exam.

Building Science Tech could definitely improve this product by including more material. For instance, the narrators gloss over the homeowner interview and make just a brief mention of asbestos. They don’t thoroughly describe equipment setup, especially when using manometers for testing. In most cases they tell you to just hook up the hoses according to the color codes (favoring Retrotec equipment), and don’t really describe testing in terms of what pressure you’re measuring with respect to what other pressure, which I find more instructive. Overall, they could probably add another 30 minutes of material, even without equipment setup details, to make it a more useful product.

To balance that out, the video does include lots of tips and tricks that you probably won’t learn in a classroom. This is the kind of information you learn only through trial and error and experimentation out in the field. The video is a bit like private field mentoring without the field. The bonus is that you can watch it repeatedly until the details sink in—something that definitely helps a slow learner like me. Plus the narrators present the material in a very approachable, comfortable fashion, with some humor thrown in, too.

The data collection form is a good bonus. It follows the video very closely, although there are some mismatches between the visual and the printed materials. The form is in PDF format and cannot be edited. I found myself wanting to write notes on the form to add my own comments, based on what was happening in the video. An editable version of the data collection form would be a great addition to the video.

Building Analyst Field Training Video is a valuable adjunct to a combination of classroom training, examinations, and hands-on training. It won’t tell you everything you need to know in order to become a BPI-certified Building Analyst or Building Envelope technician. It will, however, reinforce what you already know, help you pass the field exams, and provide you with additional knowledge that can only help you be a better professional.

For more information:
For more information on Building Analyst Field Training Video, visit www.BuildingScienceTech.com.
Readers can also purchase the video at www.buildingsciencetech.com; through TruTechTools at www.trutechtools.com; and at www.greencollaredu.net. In addition, the video has been incorporated into GreenCollarEdu.net’s online Building Analyst courses.
For more information on Saturn Resource Management’s online training, visit www.srmi.biz.

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